Inside the Soul of a Sicilian Poet

by Steven Campo | Feb 21, 2014

I am the descendent of Sicilians from both my father and mother’s side of the family. I grew up in a small town in Louisiana that had a large Sicilian population throughout the 1900’s. We were raised to be proud of our Sicilian heritage. Our grandparents spoke English, but often spoke to us in Sicilian. Hearing nonna say “veni cca figghiu di lu me cori”, always brought a smile to my face. To see a bowl of golden brown sfinci sprinkled with powdered sugar was a sight I always looked forward to seeing. My favorite time was during Easter when they made pupa cu l’ova. Those are great memories. Unfortunately, as our grandparents passed away, so did the sounds of the Sicilian language and other pieces of the culture.

When I was in my early forties, I decided to explore my Sicilian origin more thoroughly. I wanted to start with the language because I desired to hear the phrases my grandparents once spoke. I began my search on the internet for anything related to the Sicilian language. Many things that I found were rather disheartening. I read one article that said the Sicilian language was on the road to extinction. Another article that I read discouraged the reader from even learning the Sicilian language. The article asked the question, “Why learn a language spoken by so few people”?

Alessio Patti (2)Nevertheless, my search continued, and I found a Sicilian poet by the name of Alessio Patti. He made videos of his poetry and posted them on youtube. The first poem I listened to was called, “Non si po scriviri lu duluri”. It was a poem that he wrote for a friend of his that had died. I was absolutely mesmerized. The beauty and passion of that poem spoken in the Sicilian language made me wonder how in the world this marvelous language could be going extinct. I was so delighted that I had to get in touch with this man, and let him know how much I enjoyed hearing the Sicilian language. I did get in touch with Alessio, and we have been good friends ever since.

Here is an interview I had with the Sicilian poet Alessio Patti:

• Alessio, what would you like to accomplish with your poetry?
With my poetry, I intend to return to man the gift that God gave me to present to others. Poetry is the substance of God, of which we are not owners but only distributors. God is the only poet, there are no others. Who defines himself a great poet, and owner of his verses is certainly a liar! In poetic Sicilian language I try to explain the ways that these spiritual gifts fill my soul.

Alessio Patti• Alessio, where does the inspiration come from to write poetry?
Inspiration is a reminder of the Profound… I hear “the voice” that attracts me. Then I walk inside myself to discover it, and then sit humble next to it waiting for it to manifest its love. From this experience I always accumulate verses; it is a way to recount the meeting between the finite and the transcendent. The middle way between the two is in fact the soul. The transcendent or the unknowable, descends, arrives and becomes knowledge, and the limited knowledge of man, climbing upwards, meets the transcendent and becomes part of a higher knowledge. Of this magnificent encounter the verses were the only witnesses.

• What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
The advice to give aspiring poets is not to imitate any of those known, but be guided by the spiritual voice that instructs the soul. Listen to what the Profound tells us, and pour out the accepted truth in simple words that everyone can understand. The magic does not come from sophistication or technicalities, but from the simple and pure. Those who choose this path will then have the opportunity to be a living filter of the only Poet who, in spirit, creates poetry and love.

• Why do some poets become famous only after death?
Poets are usually misunderstood, because they speak of transcendence. Few understand the language of the soul, and those who are unable fight with the senses. Then, when a poet dies, his verses are probed one by one, and it’s discovered that when the artist was alive he hindered himself and did not serve any purpose, but if the poetry was true, it will endure even after the death of its author. It’s like this “li veri pueti nàsciunu a li vita sulu doppu chi mòrunu” di Alessio Patti. Translated; “True poets are born only after they have died”.

 

Steven Campo
Steven Campo is a high school science teacher from Amite, Louisiana. Steven, his wife Ida, and son Nathanael enjoy the quiet lifestyle of country living. Steven loves gardening, fishing, Sicilian cooking, Sicilian poetry, and Sicilian music. All of his great-grandparents are from Sicily. Steven enjoys learning more about his culture, and at every chance he shares it with others. He recently began studying the Sicilian language. He is committed to being a part of anything involving the preservation, and presentation of the enchanting culture of the Sicilian people.

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22 COMMENTS

  1. This is a very interesting post, and it is good to highlight some of the important literary artists who are keeping the Sicilian language alive in its highest form.
    If anyone wants to hear Patti’s poetry read aloud, he has a You Tube channel and he also maintains an official facebook page which publicises his poetry reading events etc.

    • Thank you Veronica. It is good to hear that there are Sicilians who are working hard to keep the language alive.

  2. This was a beautiful story my brother, I’m so proud of you & your passion of our heritage & culture!!! kept it going! I love you

    • Thanks for the love and support Madonna. The land of Sicily has so much to offer, and I enjoy being a part of that. ‘N abbrazzu del cori me soru!

    • Ciau Adele,

      Thank you for the support and kind words. I am content knowing that there are others exploring and sharing the treasures of Sicily. Ciau a prestu…

      • Hello Steven—I admire your tenacity in finding out about your Sicilian heritage as I also, am quite enamored in this quest. Fortunately I have been to Sicily a couple of times and stayed in the house in which my grandfather was born. I grew up in a primarily Sicilian cultured neighborhood, here in Buffalo, NY. Sicilian was only spoken in my grandparent’s home except for those few words or phrases which they were able to know, remember and speak. On my visits to Castelbuono (P) where my grandfather was born ( and I also have Campo cousins in this paese)I was, somewhat able to speak to the older relatives well and had to internally translate my American/Siciliani (vecchio)to others that are much younger than me. For your interest in learning more about this language and culture, I suggest searching the internet for ‘Arba Sicula’. This is an organization out of Montclair, NJ, that is a major proponent of the language, culture and business affiliations between the USA and Sicily. Their journal, which consists of poetry, anecdotes, storylines and even a few recipes, is printed in English with the opposing page in Sicilianu. I also have joined an internet website to receive news events and other particulars from my family’s home town. This site also has a translation app to help me when I am tested. I also rent any movie with Sicilian or Italian languages with English translation in subtitles. My favorite is ‘Cinema Paradiso’–I absolutely love the story, the language that is Sicilianu vecchiu—and also partially filmed in my grandfather’s home town. I have also visited Cefalu where my grandmother was born. All of her immediate family came to the USA via Ellis Island and cousins named Guercio thru the Port of Louisiana. Unfortunately I have not been able to locate or contact any of my Cassata family in Cefalu. Auguri e buona fortuna tutti per la vita Sicilianu—Jim

        • Ciau Jim,
          Thanks for the comment and info. Cinema Paradiso is also one of my favorites. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso is filmed in Palazzo Adriano (PA) the town where my mom’s family is from. Some friends and I are working on a FB page for learning Sicilian. Keep in touch. This is a short list of other Sicilian Movies: Baaria, I cento Passi, I 57 giorni di Paolo Borselino, the orange theif, la lupa, karusu, the golden door…..

          • Thanks for the quick response. I will look for the films mentioned in your response. Wishing you the best in your endeavors on our behalf. There is a local magazine, in the Buffalo area, that has been put together by many first, second and possibly third generations of Sicilian/Americans, recounting their upbringing in a Sicilian American community, from about 1900 to recent times. The magazine (also a non-membership club) is called ‘Per Niente’ It is familial meanderings to being raised in this community with English and Sicilian being spoken throughout this area. There are members—as in every ethnic community throughout the world, that believe that the sun only rises and sets in their paese. It is quite funny but heartwarming as well. You can check out this ‘Per Niente’ site to get a glimpse of our community. They also have produced a couple of videos (DVD) with local actors that recall those earlier times and families on the West Side of Buffalo. I also met a woman, on line a few years ago who was looking for Sicilian Americans that continue to have family in Sicily with whom they currently communicate—I do. Her name is Jenna Constantine and her last film is called ‘A Sicilian Odyssey’ or ‘Odissea Siciliana’. I was able to get her in touch with some cousins in Castelbuono as well as the Sindaco di Castelbuono to help expedite permits for access and filming rights. She filmed all over Sicily. This film won First Place in the New York Film Festival, a couple of years ago. You can do a You Tube search for this film—by Jenna Constantine or Kaplani Kids Productions.As an American by birth, I truly feel the sangue e cuore di sicilia tutti giorni. stai bene—jim

            • Ciau Jim,
              Grazii pi l’informazioni! I am very interested in Sicilian Communities around the world, and how they manage to preserve the culture. I am going to look up “Per Niente” and the film by Signura Jenna Constantine. Keep in touch if you are interested in the FB page for learning Sicilian. Ciau a prestu!

  3. Hi Steven: it was great to read your article. I admire your dedication to learning everything Sicilian. Keep up the good work, cousin. I hope to see you next time I visit home. Best regards to you and your family, Joe

    • Thanks for the support cousin Joe. The old-timers would say that passion lives within but refuses to remain hidden. I understand what that means now. Your dad came over Sunday, and I played the Sicilian Tarantella by Johnny Puleo. Uncle Steve tapped his hands to the beat so energetic and passionate, I could not believe my eyes. It was priceless. I cried watching, because I realized what it meant to him. Likewise, my passion drops deeper than the Marianas Trench, and I don’t mind being there at all; there is no other place like it. Come back and visit cuçinu! ‘N abbrazzu sinceru. Sabbenedica.

  4. That was awesome Steven!!! It’s amazing to realize, as we grow older, what has mattered most to us!! Tradition and heritage are a significant part of our lives…. Sometimes, the only thing that keeps our great memories alive and real to us!!!! I wish we could instill such inspiration in our young adults, or that they would accept it sooner rather than later!! I wish I could relive my (our) childhood knowing what we know now!! Boy, I would just soak it all in and love it!!! Thanks for keeping tradition alive!! So proud of the man you have become!!! Love you always!!!

    • Thank you for the Thoughtful comment Mary Lynn. I also wish more of our cousins and friends we grew up with would embrace the fantastic Sicilian culture that gave us a life. What we do is just light little flames here and there, and perhaps it inspires others. I love those old memories also, but as the saying goes, ” You can’t wait on yesterday, for it never comes, now is only thing that is.” Thanks again dear cousin and come back to visit. Tell everyone back home about us. I send my love to the family. ‘N abbrazzu sinceru.

  5. I also had a problem finding books and literature in Sicilian when I decided to expand what Sicilian I knew. I found books on the language, folklore stories, history on Amazon after writing down titles from articles from many sources including this site. My family is from Villalba and I hope to do the language justice when I visit.

    • Thanks for the comment Laura. I have some relatives and friends in Sicilia that help me with the Sicilian Language. However, only one of them speaks a little English. I listen to music, watch movies, read poetry and all sorts of books to help learn Sicilian. I hope to have a FB page one day where Sicilians like us can practice with one another. Keep in touch and come back to visit us. ‘N abbrazzu sinceru di lu cori!

  6. Steven:

    The website for the Per Niente club, with a membership form, is at bit.ly/PerNienteClub

    Arba Sicula’s site is at bit.ly/ArbaSicula

    See other ‘Siclian Links’ at bit.ly/SicilianLinks

    Also see my reading list at bit.ly/SicilianAmericanReadingList and my history of Sicily at bit.ly/LaBeddaSicilia

  7. Great Article Steven. In the film Golden Door the protagonist is from my families hometown of Petralia Sottana (Pa) also Many people from Petralia Sottana settled in the Ironbound aka Down Neck aka East Ward section of Newark NJ in the early 20th century. So if you are of Sicilian descent and your relatives settled in Down Neck Newark you may be Petralese. Ciao

    • Ciau Charlie,

      It’s great to read comments because they often have information that is new for me and others. I did not know that about Down Neck Newark. That is interesting. All of these tiny bits of information could help someone track down their ancestry in Sicilia. I am fortunate to know the towns where my ancestors came from. My father’s side came from Villafranca Sicula, (Ag) and my mother’s side from Palazzo Adriano, (Pa). This is why a place like “Times of Sicily” and “Speak Sicilian” are so important, because they are places to learn the Sicilian culture. Grazii pi commentannu e ni sintemu prestu a “Speak Sicilian” / thanks for commenting and we’ll see each other soon in “Speak Sicilian”.

  8. Ciao Steven, (is Ciau Sicilian?) i just wanted to tell you that there is a group of Young ladies and men who recently contacted me to tell me they had made a film about the Immigration in the early 20th century from Petralia Sottana to the US. Specifically Ironbound Newark. I am actually going to be involved in a video conference on this Saturday which is in conjunction with a festival and a screening of the film. I am excited to see the film for myself on our next trip to Sicily. I will keep you posted.

    • Ciau Charlie,
      Ciau is what I use and have seen most Sicilians use. Thanks for the information. That sounds very exciting. I am behind anything that brings positive attention to Sicilia. I support and aim to be a part of everything that can improve conditions for Sicilians also. Tourists see only the happy face of Sicilia but for many Sicilians life is unnecessarily difficult, to say the least. Keep me posted on that project and any others you hear of. Ciau a prestu! Sabbenedica

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